In this guest article, author and activist Zion Lights discusses nuclear power, energy justice and how activists can benefit from changing their minds.
I’ve spent a lifetime campaigning for environmental and social justice issues. Over a decade ago I was arrested for protesting coal fired power stations and then again for protesting investment in tar sands. I wrote an entire book on how to live with a low carbon footprint.
The entire time, I’ve watched the planet heat up and burn.
At some point we have to take a step back and look honestly at what we’ve achieved and whether our work has made a positive difference. In all honesty, I don’t believe that my protesting or my book did.
We should be able to change tactics and opinions where necessary.
I got some things wrong – I used to be anti-nuclear, and I confused nuclear weapons with nuclear energy as part of this. But the reality is that nations making decisions based on anti-nuclear rhetoric has led to the planet warming up faster than it needed to.
there is a cognitive dissonance in climate action groups
Let’s look at France. In the 1960s and 70s France built a large number of nuclear power plants and in just over a decade they achieved something close to net zero. They have some of the lowest emissions in the world, and this is using old nuclear technology too.
In their landmark 2018 report the The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) details four possible pathways to decarbonisation. All require use of nuclear power. The best scenarios require a lot of it.
There is a cognitive dissonance in climate action groups that want the world to reach net zero but don’t want to follow the science on how to get there, because it clashes with long-held ideology that confuses nuclear weapons with energy.
Young people are increasingly understanding this, as they have a strong awareness of climate change, a better grasp of science through ability to fact check information for themselves using the internet, and they don’t tend to have the same hang ups about nuclear energy as the boomer generation who grew up through the Cold War.
environmental groups need to stop idolising poverty
The problem is that the climate action narrative has been dominated by privileged voices for a long time. Many mainstream climate groups argue against economic growth and advocate for non-development instead, despite research showing that the opposite is needed.
Developed nations have a moral imperative and responsibility to bring down their emissions immediately to allow developing countries to develop the way they need to.
Instead, environmental NGOs tell developing countries that they can have solar panels for some villages, but are actively against building the immense energy structures we enjoy.
The non-development approach laughs in the face of my family in rural India who don’t just want access to clean water, but phones and laptops too – just as we in wealthy countries have enjoyed for so long.
We need to stop shouting that we use less energy when in reality the world continues to use more, and environmental groups need to stop idolising poverty because they like the idea of “living on the land”. Poverty is not something to aim for. Energy poverty in rural India is why my parents upped and left their home as young adults.
Here’s the rub: developing countries need another option. This means either fossil fuels, or nuclear energy. But environmental groups in wealthy nations have traditionally rejected both options, resulting in many countries staying dependent on fossil fuels.
The same voices have held the stage for too long on climate action.
Instead of just being against things, we can advocate for solutions too.
We have to stop making the same environmental arguments that have been made for decades. It hasn’t worked. It isn’t going to work. We need to push for solutions. So long as they are evidence-led, we can’t go wrong. This may sound like a simple idea, but it has never been tried before.
This is why I founded climate justice group Emergency Reactor. We fight for evidence-based solutions. We call for energy justice.
We recently held a public engagement event in Bristol. We have projected messages on the Cabinet Office in London and across landmarks in France. We regularly talk about climate justice and we are trying to change the narrative.
Here are some simple ways you can get involved with Emergency Reactor:
- Read about the issues so that you understand why energy justice is so important and what can be done to tackle it: our website has the essential basic details, but follow our social media accounts if you want to learn more: emergencyreactor.org
- Sign up to our mailing list to learn about our calls for action
- Request a free campaign pack so you can help to advocate for evidence-led climate solutions
- Email your MP and MEP asking them to aid developing countries in developing while also decarbonising – with both renewables and nuclear energy as per the IPCC
- Talk about climate justice in a way that decouples it from idolising poverty
There is too much at stake to hold on to ideology that is ultimately hurting our planet. And why not try something different? Instead of just being against things, like fossil fuels, we can advocate for solutions too, like nuclear. Time is running out to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. We need to phase out the fossils. We need to react now.